When Kathrine Switzer made the historic decision to run in the Boston Marathon, she likely had no idea that she would change the sport forever. And while fans hate to watch shows of bad sportsmanship, the infamous incident that occurred during this event lingered long in the hearts and minds of female athletes everywhere. But the victim of this terrible incident only grew stronger as a result — proving, yet again, that women are capable of anything.
No women allowed
In 1967 — when Switzer entered the Boston Marathon — women were actually forbidden from competing in the run. There had been some pushback, notably in 1966 when Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb became the first female athlete to complete the marathon. However, Gibb ran unregistered, and so the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) refused to acknowledge her achievement. Switzer was having none of it, though.
A talented runner from Syracuse University, Switzer had spent time running with the men's cross-country team. Her coach, Arnie Briggs, had completed the Boston Marathon 15 times and used to regale her with stories of past runs. But when Switzer said she could run in, Briggs insisted women were "too fragile" to complete the race. So Switzer resolved to do exactly that.
A test run
Coach Briggs had two conditions, though. The first one was pretty straightforward. “If any woman could do [run the Boston Marathon, you could,” he told Switzer, according to her memoir, Marathon Woman, “but you would have to prove it to me. If you ran the distance in practice, I’d be the first to take you to Boston.” Three weeks before the race, then, the pair set out on a trial run.
Going the distance
“As we came down our home stretch, it felt too easy, so I suggested that we run another five-mile loop just to feel extra confident about Boston,” Switzer explained in her memoir. “Arnie agreed, reluctantly. Toward the end of our 31-mile run, he began turning grey. When we finished, I hugged him ecstatically — and he passed out cold.” The second condition, though, could have been tricky.